ANDROIDS ALL AROUND US
appearance and behavior, emotional capacity, perhaps even conscious- ness—are operational or under serious consideration.
Not everyone engaged in these efforts is a robotics engineer or computer scientist. Researchers in other fields are working to help ill and injured people: Some of the most exciting efforts are in biomedi- cal research laboratories, in hospitals and clinical settings, where phy- sicians and engineers are developing artificial parts, such as retinal implants for the blind, that might eventually enhance human physical and mental functions.The medical applications and the engineering technologies enhance each other, and as they grow together, the po- tential for therapeutic uses brings significant motivation and a clear moral purpose to the science of artificial beings.
There is, however, considerable debate about the possibility of achieving the centerpiece of a complete artificial being, artificial in- telligence arising from a humanly constructed brain that functions like a natural human one. Could such a creation operate intelligently in the real world? Could it be truly self-directed? And could it be consciously aware of its own internal state, as we are?
These deep questions might never be entirely settled.We hardly know ourselves if we are creatures of free will, and consciousness remains a complex phenomenon, remarkably resistant to scientific definition and analysis. One attraction of the study of artificial crea- tures is the light it focuses on us:To create artificial minds and bodies, we must first better understand ourselves.
While consciousness in a robot is intriguing to discuss, many re- searchers believe it is not a prerequisite for an effective artificial being. In his Behavior-Based Robotics, roboticist Ronald Arkin of the Georgia Institute ofTechnology argues that “consciousness may be overrated,” and notes that “most roboticists are more than happy to leave these debates on consciousness to those with more philosophical leanings.” For many applications, it is enough that the being seems alive or seems human, and irrelevant whether it feels so. Even our early explorations of artificial beings show us that the goal of seeming alive and human might be less challenging than we might expect because—for reasons only partly apparent—we tend to eagerly embrace artificial beings.As